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UX vs. UI Design — What’s the Difference?

User Experience design and User Interface design are crucial elements of ensuring your digital product success. Take a closer look at the difference between UX and UI and useful design tools.

Imagine, if you will, a traffic light. It's useful, easy to use, and achieves its objective. That's what a well-designed app should feel like. Your User Experience is excellent; you know when to stop and when to go, ensuring your safety. The User Interface gives you visual and voice-based cues, increasing traffic light usability. Traffic lights are an integral part of city architecture, blending in seamlessly.

Let's explore the world of UX design and UI design and learn why they are so vital to the application development process.

What is UX Design?

User Experience is defined by Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen as “all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products”(1). Thus, designing UX entails the creation of user-friendly interactions with services and products, such as a mobile application.

User Experience is simple to understand. Accomplishing great UX is another story.
The goal of the UX design process is to make a product or service worth using. Easier said than done, right? There are millions of mobile apps downloaded in the billions, and the number one reason for deleting an app is not using it enough. To capture the right audience, to maintain their interest, you need to have a product that carries meaning and purpose for a specific audience and is easy to use in a long-term perspective.

How to achieve that? Start with UX Research!

UX Research & Market Research

The UX design process usually begins with a UX workshop. During these kickoff sessions, designers can ask questions and assess what needs to be done in the project.

We will move onto the next stages now, but if you are interest in that initial part of the process, read our article on why your app needs a design workshop and why remote workshopping can prove advantageous.

You have an idea for a one-of-kind application. Before settling on cloud nine, imagining success, let's see if there is a market for your app. Through UX Research, together with the designers, you will establish the right user demographics for your product, define their goals & challenges. Simply put, you will become them as a user-centric approach will benefit you in the later stage of the process.

There are two main ways to go about it—interviews with potential users, that's qualitative research. You might have a clear vision of your end-users, but talking with them might challenge your preconceptions. It provides granular, detailed information and helps build understanding and empathy towards the real people on the other side. Conducting a survey or a questionnaire is an example of quantitative research. There won't be a chance to ask an answer-based follow-up question, but UX Researcher will have insights into the established target audience with enough participants.

You defined and began to understand your target audience. Will there be enough such users to make your idea profitable? Conducting market research is equally essential as UX research. The question researcher will ask are, among others:

  • What is the market size?
  • How many competitors are there on the indented market? Is it too saturated, or is it a growing niche? (Developing a new search engine wouldn’t be wise, given Google's market share)
  • What trends have recently shaped the market?
  • What products the competitors have and what technologies they apply?

With UX and market research complete, you are aware of the competition you will face when attracting the end-users of your product.

UX vs UI moodboard

Personas and Journey Map

User Experience, research, and market research provide you with sets of data. Now, it's time to turn that data into users' personas.

The user persona is your ideal client.

The best way to establish a user persona is during a meeting with UX Designers and you and your team. The research findings can be translated into a fictional person that is your ideal client. You will work out these characteristics:

  • Personal details, like name, age, marital status, and a photo (you can use an AI-generated face, that's a thing, yes),
  • Character traits and motivators,
  • Goals and frustrations.

You know your ideal client. How will he or she start using your mobile application? If you develop a mobile app, the typical touchpoint with your potential client will be Google Play or Apple Store. But what makes him or her download your app instead of your competitors? Journey mapping is a UX tool that might help with that. In this process, a typical journey of a potential client is explored, with problems, opportunities, and emotions in mind. That's why understanding your end-user is so crucial. The better you understand your client, the more tailored your solution and the story behind it will be. Depending on the specific persona and the cost of the product, the journey can take different forms. It’s worth noting that in the spirit of accessibility, stress cases should also be analyzed, i.e. personas in special circumstances, such as people with disabilities or users in distress. Accessibility is an especially important issue in mobile app development.

What is UI Design?

User Interface is a visual representation of an idea and a touchpoint between a user and the product. In the case of the app, it’s the visual layer, the one that users interact with. It includes visual identity, or branding. However, even the most stunning UI design will not make users spend time in the app, if it's not usable. By usability, we mean, among others:

  1. Visual clarity — a small font can discourage users from reading an article, too many pop-ups can make you exit a site,
  2. Ease of navigation — moving from point A to B should be as straightforward as possible,
  3. Consistent responses — making sure that each time the same action in taken in the app, the result will be the same, otherwise it can create confusion,
  4. Error prevention — constant app crashes or 404 errors will quickly make users search for alternative solutions.

User Interface design aims to apply all the knowledge acquired during UX design workshops and research to create an immersive and smooth experience of the app. It's here that UX Designer and UI Designers join forces to prepare user flows, wireframes, and prototypes to precisely convey their vision of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to all stakeholders.

UX vs UI wireframes

User Flows, Wireframes, Prototypes

You know how to attract the attention of your prospective clients. They downloaded your app. That's not the end of the journey, though. How long the user will use your app, how enjoyable that experience will be depends on how well the app itself is designed. Thus understanding your users also benefits the process of prototyping your mobile application.

To work our way towards a prototype, first, we must imagine how a user would move through the app so that the experience is smooth and straightforward. A user flow is a sequence of actions a user takes in the app to complete an objective, like subscribing. Each step is then visualized in the form of a wireframe, i.e., a blueprint of how a specific screen should look. With all wireframes ready, UI designers can conduct tests to see how easily users can complete objectives. The iterative nature of this process cannot be overstated. With each user test, designers can gain valuable insights into improving the usability and stability of the mobile application.

When everything is clear as day, prototypes can be prepared—a detailed, interactive, high-fidelity representation of the app. This is the basis for the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), the first iteration of your final product.

If you want to know more about the design and development process, learn how we reached our tried-and-test Agile approach. And if you are ready to show your idea to the world and make your dreams come true, our experienced UX and UI developers are here to help at each step of the way towards your success.